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Can Mark Hughes be a success at Stoke?

Before he went to QPR, Mark Hughes’ reputation was still strong after a good single season at Fulham, which followed what was widely regarded as an unfair sacking by Manchester City. The reason he had gotten the job at City was because he had managed Blackburn to a top-six finish in 2005-06, and he got that job because he very nearly took Wales to Euro 2004, which would have been their first tournament for 50 years.

This is a man with proper managerial pedigree. Really, Stoke are appointing him for his achievements in all his other positions. He did amazingly well with tiny budgets at Blackburn, with inferior players with Wales and maintained the Roy Hodgson momentum at Fulham. Blackburn and Fulham were mid-sized clubs who needed a steady hand at the tiller and a good eye for a bargain in the transfer market. Sounds like Stoke right? Well, not necessarily.

Mark Hughes

Hughes failed spectacularly at QPR and underachieved to some extent at Man City. Both of those jobs had exactly the same remit; big money, take the club on to the next level. At City, he tried to ease in Premier League players such as Joleon Lescott, Craig Bellamy, Gareth Barry, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Roque Santa Cruz so that City could more smoothly transition from mid table to top table. Also snuck in there were Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta. His plan was actually working pretty solidly, and despite the heinous amounts these players cost, they were heading in the right direction. However, they weren’t getting there quick enough for the new owners, and he was sacked.

At QPR then, baring his previous experience in mind, he tried to do things much quicker and at a club with much smaller cache than Man City. City had already been growing under Sven-Goran Eriksson so Hughes was adding better players to an already good squad. At QPR he was adding wholesale to a squad that barely survived relegation. He had to sign, or chose to sign, players who were only coming to the club because of the money offered. He went on a trolley dash, picked up whoever he could and tried to see what he could make of it. Unlike at Blackburn or even City, there was no plan, no end game.

This is what makes his arrival at Stoke so interesting. Stoke sacked Pulis because he can’t take them to the next level. They are the third highest net spenders in the league over the last five years and still haven’t cracked the top half. So, this is kind of similar to Hughes’ Man City job because at Stoke he will have a relatively big budget. The problem is, what is the next level? The top ten perhaps? The trouble is that the Premier League mid table is so congested and teams can’t sign from each other as they all have similar budgets and ambition.

Tony Pulis

Because of this, he will have to pay bigger sums to get minor improvements to his squad if he shops domestically, which is a very dangerous path and immediately puts a target on his back. It won’t be easy for him to decide on a coherent market strategy. However, he has now got the experience of this type of job and should now know what not to do, which gives him a real advantage. Stoke have more pedigree than QPR and thus this is more like the Man City build.

The other question is about the type of football he will play and in this sense he is a good bridge to better stuff. His teams never played beautiful football as such, but it was much nicer than what Stoke fans are used to seeing. But importantly, it’s not too different. He doesn’t need to change things wholesale to get them playing better, as someone like Roberto Martinez would. He will be comfortable with the more industrial players and more tolerant of the creative players. As a former striker he has an empathy for creators and goal scorers, something Pulis never had, always preferring industry.

Stoke City have a rock-solid defence and goalkeeper, which is a good foundation, similar to what Hughes had at Blakcburn and Fulham. If he can find the right attacking weapons then there is no reason why he can’t get Stoke playing better football in the top ten. He will have the money available to do so and in all his previous jobs has shown he can spend adroitly. He needs to remember what he’s learned about pacing the change properly and he can be a big success.

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Roy Hodgson – The master of lowering England’s expectations

“I thought we hung on well, all things considered we mustn’t be too disappointed; a point here gives a chance to build for the future,” said Roy Hodgson speaking after England’s 1-1 draw with Montenegro on Tuesday night.

Hodgson, the master of lowering expectations, was at it again in Podgorica.

There are people who claim that an away draw at international level should never be grumbled at, and of course, they have a point, but Hodgson’s reaction to a stalemate against a team with a national population of just over 600,000 was irritating at best, baffling at worst.

Roy Hodgson

Of course, Hodgson has previous for these sound bites that reveal an exasperating inferiority complex; regardless of what team he is managing.

After seeing his Liverpool side enter their most turgid performance of testing campaign in their 2-0 defeat to fierce local rivals Everton in October 2010, Hodgson did not quite see the fuss being made from the Anfield faithful:

“I watched the performance and the second half was as good as I saw a Liverpool team play under my management that is for sure,” opined Hodgson, to the incredulity of all who follow the five-time European Cup winners.

Hodgson had earlier that campaign gave an almost comical response to a question put to him after a 3-0 defeat to Manchester City.

Asked if his techniques still worked in the Premier League in 2010, Hodgson fumed: “What do you mean do my methods translate? They have translated from Halmstads to Malmo, to Orebo to Neuchatel Xamax, to the Swiss national team, so I find the question insulting.”

Neuchatel Xamax, Orebo and Halmstads? To use such sides as a reference point to defend his managerial record was beyond belief to many who sat at the Etihad Stadium, watching Roberto Mancini’s side dismantle the Reds.

Hodgson has also flourished with this kind of Basil Fawlty-esque take on media handling in the role of national manager, particularly when criticising Wayne Rooney immediately after a quarter-final penalty shootout exit at the hands of Italy at Euro 2012.

Asked if the Manchester United striker was struggling for fitness after missing the first two Group games through suspension, the former Fulham boss dismissed such suggestions and claimed that Rooney simply was playing far below his level.

“In the first game against Ukraine he didn’t show any particular signs of lacking fitness. He played 120 minutes [against Italy].

“What you might be saying is that you are a bit disappointed with his performance and maybe thought he could have played better. He didn’t have his best game – I’m sure he will admit that. That could be down to a number of factors but I don’t think the fitness itself was a particular factor.”

Roy Hodgson

A masterclass in how to alienate your best player, minutes after a demoralising exit from a tournament that dominated two years of his international career.

The truth is, Hodgson had already worked his special brand of expectation-lowering before he had even picked a first XI for the Three Lions. Pipping red-hot favourite Harry Redknapp to the role of manager back in April 2012, many fans and pundits alike accepted that the forthcoming European Championships would be a write-off – a chance for Roy to experiment and blood some youngsters into the senior fold for experience, that may serve them well for future tournaments.

It was a majestic way of disarming a perpetually over-exuberant fanbase before a major tournament. Had Redknapp, who was forging a reputation as the darling of English football at the time, taken over as England chief, the nation would have been awash with optimism heading into the tournament, as the-then Tottenham Hotspur manager was riding high at White Hart Lane.

Of course, expectation levels would have risen unrealistically high, but would that have been any worse than accepting that a team comprised of players playing for some of the biggest teams in the Premier League every week will fail miserably?

We suspect that the truth is, Redknapp was not offered the job at Wembley due to the reported £10m compensation package that Spurs chairman Daniel Levy wanted for the services of the-now Queens Park Rangers boss.

Hodgson was even playing down his chances before he first sat in front of the press as national manager.

“I would rather hope that, if I was ever going to be offered the England job, it would be with the backing of the important people. Otherwise, it’s going to be a very difficult job for anyone who takes it.”

“A difficult job” indeed, one that he is not making any easier for himself or his team.

England overlooked XI: How well would this bunch do at Euro 2012?

England put in a gutsy and relatively composed performance against France in their Euro 2012 opening fixture, with Roy Hodgson’s men recording a 1-1 draw against Les Bleus in their first game in Group D. Despite this, some of the new manager’s squad selections have been queried; here is an alternate England XI that was overlooked.

GK – Ben Foster – Opted to retire from international football due to past disappointments, the Birmingham man proved a consistent performer for West Brom last term.
LB – Kieran Gibbs – Potential in spades, Gibbs is one of Arsene Wenger’s youth projects and could well play a role in the national set-up after Ashley Cole’s days are done.

RB – Micah Richards – Despite being an important player at the Etihad Stadium, Richards seems to have done something to annoy the powers that be at the FA.

CB – Rio Ferdinand – Omitted for ‘football reasons’, Ferdinand apparently was too good to call up after Gary Cahill’s injury. Hmmm

CB – Ledley King – In this fantasy team lets pretend King is fully fit and functioning. Rolls Royce of a football player.

LW – Adam Johnson – A victim of Roberto Mancini’s star-studded squad, the former Middlesbrough winger has the ability to deliver if he is in the mood.

RW – Aaron Lennon – One of the surprise omissions, Lennon’s blistering pace and penetration is vital at White Hart Lane, and could have been for the Three Lions too.

CM – Paul Scholes – Mercurial, masterful, magic but getting old, Paul Scholes is one of the best players to play in the Premier League over the last 10 years. Fact.

CM – Michael Carrick – Has been overlooked once more even though he starts most weeks for Manchester United. In England’s little black book alongside Richards.

ST – Grant Holt – The Norwich targetman proved a right handful for Premier League defences in 2011-12, and he netted 15 goals. The Italians or Spanish in the knockout stages wouldn’t have enjoyed encountering him for the first time.

ST – Daniel Sturridge – Was an important player for Chelsea under AVB, but lost his way in the second half of 2011-12; still a talented player and one for the future for England.

Ferdinand’s leadership, Richards’ physicality, Scholes’ guile, Lennon’s pace, Carrick’s passing range and Holt’s bullying tactics; I think this team would have done ok……

England squad for Euro 2012: Hodgson makes his mark

When Roy Hodgson was named England manager many pundits commented that he was a conservative manager, who would play it safe in his squad selections. His 23-man squad for Euro 2012 has blown this theory out of the water though, with some big decisions made and a couple of surprise selections.

Goalkeepers
The selections of Joe Hart and Robert Green are no surprise. Hart has firmly established himself as one of the best and most confident keepers in Europe, whilst Green has had another consistent season at West Ham and is a very able back-up. The inclusion of John Ruddy, ahead of Scott Carson and David Stockdale, has come as a surprise though. Loaned out by Everton to nine clubs, he has finally found a home at Norwich City and has come into his own.

Defenders

A number of the defenders picked themselves. At right-back Glen Johnson has been a regular member of the squad for a number of years, whilst Hodgson is also blessed with two fantastic left-backs in Ashley Cole and Leighton Baines. Gary Cahill has earned his place with solid performances over the last year for club and country while Joleon Lescott has been one of the unsung heroes in Manchester City’s title winning campaign. Phil Jones has had an up-and-down season for Manchester United, but continues to show great promise and also has the versatility to play at right-back as well as centre-back.

The major talking point though has been the inclusion of John Terry and the omission of Rio Ferdinand. The Manchester United man has only made one England appearance in the last year and his form and constant fitness issues have clearly had a major impact on what Hodgson describes as a “footballing decision”. Many people will also wonder whether having Terry in the squad will cause problems in the dressing room. The fact is though, Terry has performed better than Ferdinand this season and if it was a straight choice between the two, Terry was always going to be the winner – Hodgson has made the correct choice.

Midfielders

In midfield Hodgson has gone for a blend of youth and experience. Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have the drive to lead from midfield  and also are consistent performers for their clubs. With being named captain as well, the Anfield talisman can provide great inspiration and leadership as he does for Liverpool. Gareth Barry and Scott Parker will provide a solid base for the midfield whilst James Milner can play any of the four midfield positions and even right back if need be.

Theo Walcott has improved considerably for Arsenal in the second half of this season both in front of goal and in terms of his composure with his final pass or cross. Ashley Young has had a good first season with Manchester United and his willingness to run at his opponent and his excellent set piece delivery made him an easy selection.

Stewart Downing however is a baffling selection. Whilst he is the only natural left-footed winger in the squad, his record of no Premier League goals or assists all season is a major cause for concern. Another shock inclusion is Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but it would be unfair to compare this selection to that of Walcott for the 2006 World Cup. Chamberlain has proven his ability in the Champions League this season, and his performance in the centre of midfield against AC Milan at home was hugely impressive.

Forwards

Of the forwards, Wayne Rooney is an easy choice despite the fact he misses the first two games. Danny Welbeck has impressed in partnership with Rooney this season and is skilful, quick and has shown absolutely no fear of any centre-back pairing. Jermain Defoe remains one of the most natural goalscorers in the country and with Darren Bent unfit he had to be in the squad. The shock choice in the attackers is Andy Carroll. Despite impressive performances in the final few games, Carroll only scored six goals in his first 40 games of this season and despite three in his last seven he needs too many chances to score a goal and you do not get these at international level.

Notable omissions

Apart from the obvious omission of Rio Ferdinand there are a few other players who will feel they are unfortunate to miss out. Micah Richards has been very consistent this season and a big part of Manchester City’s success. Michael Carrick has been impressive in the second half of the season and England may well miss his range of passing and ability to control the pace of the game. Aaron Lennon and Daniel Sturridge will feel unfortunate to lose out to Stewart Downing as both have provided more goals, assists and better performances than the Liverpool man. Paul Scholes meanwhile was thought to be interested in coming out of international retirement, but the 37-year-old was not deemed worthy of a place.

By Chris Newman

England vs France: The key battles in this Euro 2012 grudge-match

England have been drawn against old enemies France in Group D of Euro 2012, and the clash on June 11th will have a major bearing on each side’s chances of progression in the tournament. With a month to go before the nations do battle the Three Lions are slight favourites, but it should be a close encounter. With Sweden and Ukraine in the pool also, both teams will look to get an early advantage in the competition.

With the domestic campaigns drawing to a close in the Premier League and Ligue 1, Laurent Blanc and Roy Hodgson will have their squads for the tournament all but decided, with a few decisions potentially still to be made. Les Bleus coach has named a strong looking provisional squad, with a raft of English-based players included, whilst the West Brom man has revealed that he will name his contingent on Wednesday.

Despite the full tournament squads yet to be announced, the main players for both sides are known and will play a key role in deciding the outcome of the encounter. France have a good blend of young talent and experienced heads, and their strength lies in central midfield and in a couple of talented individual attackers. The battle for possession in the centre of the park will be a key element to deciding the outcome, with Blanc able to choose from Yohan Cabaye, Yann M’Vila, Alou Diarra and Morgan Amalfitano in the heart of his midfield. Scott Parker will have a role to play in breaking up the French passing game, whilst the likes of Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard will look to mix it with their opponents.

French matchwinners include skilful wingers Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa, whilst the goalt-hreat will be provided by Karim Benzema. England’s full-backs must monitor the widemen carefully, with a big responsibility falling on Kyle Walker, Micah Richards or Glen Johnson’s shoulders to shackle Bayern Munich superstar Ribery. The centre of the English defence will also be wary of giving Benzema space, as the Real Madrid man is one of Europe’s form strikers currently.

Going the other way, new boss Hodgson will be without his talismanic forward Wayne Rooney due to suspension, and has key decisions to make in attack. With Darren Bent still on the sidelines with injury and on the borderline of missing out, no other centre forwards shout out as sure things. Hodgson will consider the likes of Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Jermain Defoe, Andy Carroll and maybe even Peter Crouch to lead his line, but the English attack will be limited due to Rooney’s absence.

The eventual England squad should have pace to burn however, with widemen Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon all with the necessary speed to harry the French defenders. There is also a case for Paul Scholes’ inclusion to add a bit of creativity to the side, but Hodgson will look to his wingers to provide the necessary penetration.

The game is sure to full of natural pride and passion, but England must compete with the technical abilities of the France side to get a result. The odd goal may well decide this game, but it should be an exciting and enthralling match.

Published – Ghana Soccernet

Manchester City, Newcastle and the biggest Premier League winners of 2011-12

A fantastic last day of the season capped off one of the most memorable Premier League seasons in the recent memory. 2011/12 has had it all; a topsy-turvy title race that literally went down to the wire, a bitter battle for the top four, heroics in the Champions League and a breathtaking relegation battle. Now that the dust has settled, here are Ninety Minutes Online’s top five winners of 2011/12.

Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City mindgames

An incredible title race has been consisted of champions and perennial favourites Manchester United being confronted by cross-town rivals Manchester City, with the noisy neighbours claiming victory on a captivating last day. The Etihad Stadium outfit looks almost unstoppable at the start of the season, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men struggling to keep up at times, before the Red Devils recaptured the advantage and found themselves eight points clear at the summit. After a derby victory for City, the battle went down to the last day, with two goals in stoppage time by Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero against QPR unbelievably giving the Citizens their first top-flight title since 1968.

Ferguson is usually the king of managerial mindgames, but on this occasion the imperious Italian has seemingly got into the United players’ thoughts, and City provide worthy winners of the 2011/12 Premier League.

Alan Pardew and his Newcastle team

Despite missing out on the top four with a last-day defeat by Everton, Newcastle have been exceptional under Alan Pardew this season, and have defied the odds to be in the race for Champions League qualification. The likes of Cheik Tiote, Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye have proved to be astute signings, whilst the January acquisition of Papiss Cisse has resulted in a new number nine hero for the Tyneside club.

Pardew and his side must be given credit for finishing above the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool this season and providing some exceptional football at times.

Newly-promoted sides

Norwich, Swansea and QPR faced an uphill battle to stay in the Premier League this season, and many prophesised a speedy return to the Championship for the trio. However, all three sides have proved that they are good enough to cut it in the top-tier, and will look to push on next term. Swansea have been one of the teams of the season, and an 11th place finish, with a stylish brand of football to boot, is an exceptional achievement. Norwich, led by talisman Grant Holt, were not far behind in 12th and also claimed some scalps this term.

Meanwhile, although QPR escaped the drop on the last day, the Loftus Road club have beaten Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool to show their worth. All three will provide motivation to Southampton, Reading and either West Ham or Blackpool for next season.

Roy Hodgson

With Fabio Capello’s decision to walk away from the England manager’s post, a media frenzy has brewed over who the man to lead the Three Lions to Euro 2012 would be. With Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp the frontrunner and favourite, the press had us believing that it would be a matter of when and not if the White Hart Lane supremo took charge.

However, Roy Hodgson’s excellent achievement of lifting West Brom to 10th in the table has been recognised, and the Hawthorns man will now lead England to Ukraine and Poland.

Football

Football has been a massive winner this term, as the 2011/12 Premier League season has been the most competitive, spell-bounding and enthralling campaign for many a year. Whether it was the race for the title, five teams slugging it out to stay in the division, the heroics of the new boys or the quality of the sides in the top six, 2011/12 will take some beating next season.

Honourable Mentions

  • Roberto Di Matteo – The Italian has completely rejuvenated Chelsea since taking over from Andre Villas Boas, and after winning the FA Cup is 90 minutes away from lifting the Champions League crown.
  • Paul Scholes – The ageing veteran came out of retirement to show that he still has what it takes to compete at the top level despite his age. Rumours are circulating that Roy Hodgson will take Scholes to Euro 2012.
  • Arsene Wenger – Many had lost faith in the French manager at the start of the campaign when the Gunners lost four of their first seven games, but Wenger has led the club to a third-placed finish despite the criticism.
  • The FA Cup – With the emergence of the Champions League, over recent seasons the FA Cup has had to take a back seat, but some enthralling games between the nation’s best teams have been a joy to watch this season.
  • David Moyes – The Scottish coach continues to overachieve despite a shoestring transfer budget at Goodison Park, and leading the Toffees to seventh place is an excellent return.

Published – Soccerlens

Roy Hodgson: Is this surprise selection the man to lead England to glory at Euro 2012?

Roy Hodgson has been announced as Fabio Capello’s successor with the countdown to Euro 2012 well under way. The FA have taken a considered and patient approach in finding the next Three Lions boss, but with Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp also thought to be keen on leading the nation, have the governing body made the right choice?

The expectancy of England to perform wonders in Ukraine and Poland is not as high as in the lead-up to previous international tournaments, and Hodgson’s appointment will not inspire any additional confidence in the travelling supporters. With nations such as Spain, Germany and Netherlands expected to lead the way this summer, the West Brom boss will need to get the best out of his squad to stand a chance of making the final stages of the tournament.

Even before Capello walked away from the role with the home nation, Redknapp has been the frontrunner and favourite to lead the nation due to his excellent achievements at White Hart Lane. It seemed like a matter of when rather than if the Spurs boss would assume the role, with the media brewing up a storm in a teacup in backing the north London manager.

However, given careful consideration, maybe there is rational thought behind the selection of Hodgson. Despite a terrible and brief stint at Liverpool, he has transformed West Brom’s fortunes and taken a mediocre squad away from relegation against the odds and into the safe-haven of mid-table.

The Hawthorns supremo has been praised for his man-management skills and careful approach, whilst he also has experience of international football. Redknapp is perceived as more of a club manager, who enjoys the wheeling-dealing of the transfer market and daily interaction with players.

Hodgson will not be the first surprise, unlikely or second-choice man to fill the national void, after the likes of Steve McClaren and Terry Venables got the top job unexpectedly. The fortunes of the latter certainly outweighed that of the former, but for England to excel this summer Hodgson must dispel any rumblings over his worth and selection.

With the competition kicking off in a month’s time and the selection of the squad in around a week, Hodgson has work to do, and will not necessarily thank the FA for the short timescales to get organised and comfortable in the role. Fixtures against France, Sweden and Ukraine in Group D will test England’s ability and resolve, and the FA will hope that their choice of boss will be vindicated come the final on July 1st.

Published – Yahoo

After European disappointment, United need to bounce back against West Brom

Sir Alex Ferguson remained upbeat after Manchester United were beaten 3-2 at home by Athletic Bilbao on Thursday night, but the side need to return to form and victory when they face West Brom on Sunday. With Manchester City two points ahead of the Red Devils, a win against the Baggies at Old Trafford is a necessity.

United were second best against Bilbao in the Europa League, with Ferguson admitting that the showing, especially at the back, was not good enough. The club’s European campaign hangs in the balance, and a top performance at San Mames next week will be necessary to salvage the tie against the Spaniards.

However, more importantly, the Premier League campaign is entering a pivotal stage and after wins over Norwich and Tottenham, United need to keep their domestic ball rolling. With eleven games left in the league, the race to be champions is set to go down to the wire. City currently hold the advantage, but this weekend may well shift the balance of power.

City may well have won their last four games in the league, but they face a tough test this weekend. After an unexpected 1-0 defeat at the hands of Sporting Lisbon on Thursday and travel across to Portugal, Roberto Mancini’s men have to face a Swansea side that have exceeded expectations this term. The Welsh team have been especially dangerous at the Liberty Stadium this season, having beat Arsenal and drawn with Chelsea and Tottenham at home; City could drop points in this fixture if they are not at their best.

Regardless of City’s result, United need to get maximum points to keep pressure on their arch enemies. However, with less than convincing performances of late, victory is not assured against a rejuvenated West Brom team. Roy Hodgson has turned the Hawthorns club’s fortunes around over the last month, to the point that he is now being considered in the media as a potential candidate for the vacant England manager post.

West Brom have won their last three games in the league, scoring ten goals in the process. A 1-0 win over Chelsea in their last outing saw the end of Andre Villas Boas, and dealt a blow to the Blues’ season. In particular, Peter Odemwingie has recovered form and fitness and will pose a threat to a under pressure United backline; the Nigeria international has scored five goals in the three-match run and is being linked with a move to Arsenal in the summer.

All things considered, United should pick up three points against the Baggies on Sunday if they play to anywhere near their best. Rio Ferdinand will more than likely be reinstated to the back four, and the veteran needs to step up and command his fellow defenders. If Sir Alex’s men can solve their issues at the back, they may well be top of the league at the end of the weekend.

Relegation dogfight intensifies; the contenders facing the drop

Let’s face it; obviously no-one wants to get relegated, but a relegation scrap can be as exciting as the race for the title, and this year there are an added number of clubs in the mix to be demoted to The Championship. The cost of relegation from the Premier League is a massive one financially and emotionally; a club can lose up to £40 million worth of television money, attendances can drop, your best players will look to jump ship in order to retain Premiership football and well, there’s the heartbreak if you’re a fan of a team that finishes in the bottom three that will spoil your summer. 40 points has been stated as the expected target to survival; so who are this year’s relegation threatened clubs, and what chance do they stand of staying up?

Wolves

Mick McCarthy’s men sit bottom on goal difference at time of writing on 25 points, and can blame a terrible away record for their current predicament with only one win and five points away from Molineux this campaign. They have looked more of a threat at home, and gave their season a shot in the arm with a historic 2-1 win over leaders Manchester United a couple of weeks ago. Wolves fans will know they missed a glorious chance to steal a march on fellow bottom feeders West Brom  in their last outing,  the Baggies grabbed a injury-time equaliser. Wolves actually have a fairly good fixture list for the run-in, with only Spurs of the top six teams yet to play. They face Blackpool at home this weekend, and must win if they are to stand a chance of avoiding Championship football next season.

Prediction – relegated

Blackpool

The Seasiders have been a revelation in their first season amongst English football elite, with Ian Holloway instilling a passing football mentality and great work ethic to his team. Blackpool started the season well and up to Christmas showed no fear to record some memorable victories. However 2011 has been more of a struggle, and there are signs that Holloway’s men are running out of steam. However the Seasiders caught Tottenham daydreaming of European glory in mid-week, and claimed an invaluable three points that puts a buffer between themselves and the team in the bottom three. They have performed better away from Bloomfield Road than at home, and need a few more wins to secure safety. The game against Wolves at Molineux is an important one, and if they can escape without defeat should be safe.

Prediction – safe

West Ham

West Ham are a big team in big trouble; they currently are on 25 points and sit one place above Wolves on goal difference. They were bottom at Christmas, which is always an ominous sign, but will be boosted by a good win in the FA Cup in midweek. If they are to stay up they need to win home games, and have six of their last eleven at Upton Park. The defeat at home to Birmingham a couple of weeks ago was a massive blow to their chances, and Avram Grant’s men are staring into the last chance saloon. The fact that the Hammers’ board have backed Grant to lead them to safety should unite the London club, and they have their next two games at home against Liverpool and Stoke, which they need to capitalise on if they want to be playing in the Premiership when they move to the Olympic stadium.

Prediction – safe, but only just

Birmingham

Alex McLeish has done an excellent job at Birmingham given the limited resources at his disposal, but the Scot has one huge problem; his team does not score enough goals. The Blues have only found the back of the net 25 times in 26 games and must start converting chances to avoid being dragged back into the mire. Their form at St Andrews should be enough to keep them up, but McLeish will not be able to rest easy until his team win a couple more games.

Prediction – safe

Aston Villa

Villa are too big a club to go down surely? Right? Wrong. Gerard Houiller’s men have had a terrible first season post Martin O’Neill and are sitting precariously in 16th on 30 points. The Birmingham club have lacked bite in the final third and some flimsy defending has cost them points, drawing too many games and losing their proud home form from seasons past. Houiller has spent big to bring in Darren Bent in January, and the responsibility lies on him and fellow England men Young, Agbonlahor and Downing to get them out of this mess. Vitally, Villa have still to play West Ham, Wigan, Wolves and West Brom, which should decide their fate.

Prediction – safe, but still a very poor season for Villa

Wigan

Wigan have been one of the most inconsistent sides in the league this year, at times looking to play good football and young players showing potential to compete at this level, but mostly they have lacked direction in midfield and leaked soft goals. Roberto Martinez’s men are sitting in the dropzone in 18th, and alarm bells must be ringing around the DW Stadium. To boot, The Latics have one of the toughest run-ins, with their next two games against Manchester United and City, and still with Tottenham and Chelsea to play. To stand any chance of survival they must work together to grind out results, which at this stage are more important than the brand of football Martinez wants them to play.

Prediction – relegated, and may finish bottom

West Brom

Roy Hodgson has taken on a tough test, and will need to utilise all his managerial experience and know-how to avoid perennial yo-yo side West Brom from dropping back to The Championship. The Baggies are sitting in 17th place, one point ahead of Wigan and home draws against fellow strugglers Wolves and West Ham in their last two games have not eased pressure on the club from The Hawthornes. West Brom have a tough run in, and if they are to avoid the drop must continue their relatively strong home record, and will need the fans to get behind them, Adrian Chilles and Frank Skinner included.

Prediction – relegated

So in my opinion it will be the three W’s, West Brom, Wolves and Wigan who will face the agony of relegation and the heavy upheaval of trying to wade through The Championship to make it back to English football’s top tournament. A lot will depend on the games the struggling sides play against each other, but this season’s fight for survival should provide a very close and enthralling finale to the 2010/11 season.

Published – http://www.caughtoffside.com/2011/02/25/premier-league-relegation-dogfight-contenders-facing-the-drop-and-predicted-outcomes/

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